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The Gothic - Professor John Bowen discusses key motifs in Gothic novels

here we are in Horace Walpole's house
Strawberry Herald this is the place
where both the Gothic Revival
architecture and gothic fiction we began
the whole thing is a fake or theatrical


version in miniature of what a Gothic or
medieval castle might be it's not just
architectural but this house is
important because it's also very
important in this two terms one is
asleep in his bedroom upstairs and
dreams of a gigantic armored fist
appearing on the staircase behind me and
that inspires him to ride the Castle of
Otranto is it published in 1764 and
begins this enormous leap our four
tradition that continues to the present
vary in hundreds of books television
programs and films
gothic Luton is fascinated by strange
places on the one hand very wild and
remote landscapes and on the other -
very imprisoning places so you think of
the end of Frankenstein's there on the
wild hot tube wastes or the other one a
summer like Dracula where you get
imprisonment of poor Jonathan Harker
who's a nice modern young man goes off
to Central Europe and he's suddenly
captured by kam Dracula and imprisoned
in this violently archaic world so it's
a sudden transformation both in the
space that he's living in and the place
that he goes to it's also of course a
change in the kind of time that
Dracula's living in he moves from a
modern world this is a world of
typewriters of recording equipment first
and ography of modern trains suddenly to
a world that reaches back into most
archaic and distant sense of time and
that's very typical above all gothic
fiction it wants to see the relationship
between the modern world and the past
not as one as evolution or development
but of sudden juxtaposition and often
violent conflict in which the past
erupts with in the present and deranged
is it and one of the most powerful
motifs of that is of course the ghost
the thing that you think is dead but
comes back vividly alive in the present
so the heart of gothic fiction is the
question of power the one hand it tends
to be drawn to very powerful often
supernaturally powerful or obscenely
powerful figures and on the other to
people who are completely vulnerable you
just want to do this to explore the
limits of what it is to be human to be
driven by either internal desires or
forces outside yourself that make you or
compel you to do things you don't want
to do and of course gives it an enormous
scope to choose for the position so
women in 19th century society or 18th
century society the way that women often
are forced into situations in which they
are confronted by irrational kinds of
desire or need to which they are
vulnerable and which may make their very
life at risk
gothic novels are full of perverse weird
and dangerous kinds of sexuality it's
often fascinated by incest by same-sex
desire by violence by abduction by rape
so gothic is a kind of writing that can
make explicit what is often held back
with in more normal kinds of writing the
one hand it's fascinated by total sexual
power by these obscene patriarchal
figures who seem to be able to have no
restraints whatsoever on their desire
it's also constantly drawn to the figure
of the vulnerable young woman and a
possible triumph over these apparently
unbeatable forces
one really useful term for thinking
about gothic writing is the uncanny now
this is a term that comes from Sigmund
Freud so something that's new but that
also takes us back to something either
in our own psychological past or
something in the world that's archaic
often Gothic fictions drive onwards to
these uncanny moments for the reader in
which you suddenly recognize somebody
who's who seems unfamiliar and strange
in fact has an identity that you already
know so figures that are not quite human
that look human but are not entirely
human like dolls waxworks automata these
are very characteristic marks knowledge
of Gothic but particularly of the
uncanny
in the mid 18th century critics and
writers come more more fascinated by
experiences that don't seem to fit in
their normal category of what's
beautiful and what's pleasurable they
get fascinated by what does it mean to
be in the middle of a storm at sea or to
see a shipwreck was beyond the top of a
high mountain in a great wind and the
word that they use more and more to
describe this is the sublime the sublime
isn't harmonious balanced and beautiful
which are traditionally being the
concern of the aesthetic but is often
terrifying and awesome and overwhelming
and gothic is absolutely at the center
of that move to the sublime and
sublimity in understanding the world
Godley particularly tends to appear at
moments of political and social crisis
as an enormous increase in the number of
gothic novels written in the 1790s
there's another verse than the end of
the 19th century so moments of great
political change particularly following
the French Revolution in 1789 the Gothic
seems a way of trying to master and
understand these enormous changes that's
a religious crisis to the Catholic
churches too spoiled
it's a beers and it's monasteries are
closed and that feeds into the Gothic
sense of the doubt about the
supernatural
gothic is fascinated by the supernatural
in Matthew Lewis's bonus novel the monk
Satan himself appears at the end of the
book and the main character Ambrosio
sells his soul to the devil there's also
a very different kind of writing like
that of Anna Radcliffe who's ever great
coffee novelist of the 1790s where there
is no supernatural that you appear to be
ghosts in fact by the end of the novel
all those ghosts have been explained in
a naturalistic way so there are two
different kinds of Gothic one that uses
the supernatural as it were and the
expects us to believe in it and the
other that gives a natural realistic
explanation
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